King Tut. Old tyrant
Photo: Ghetty Image Bank, Israel

King Tut brings old, new issues to fore

Egyptian politician keen to attack injustice. But not when his government is the guilty party

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, doesn't mind standing up for the rights of the dead.


But apparently, he may not have the same enthusiasm to stand up for the rights of the living.


Hawass is a Pharaoh when it comes to Egyptian antiquities. And, he has the courage of a Third World tyrant to confront the injustices committed by others, but not his own country.


Fighting Exelon


In Chicago for the opening of the exhibit of King Tut, the Egyptian boy king who symbolized an era of ancient tyrants, Hawass threatened to end his association with the exhibit’s host, Chicago’s prestigious Field Museum, and to remove Exelon, one of the American Midwest’s largest energy giants, as an exhibit sponsor.


During the opening ceremonies, Hawass discovered that Exelon CEO John Rowe owns an Egyptian sarcophagus. According to reports, one of Rowe’s underlings mentioned the tidbit maybe thinking it might demonstrate the Exelon robber baron’s love for the arts.


Instead, he inadvertently lit the fuse of an international incident. Hawass immediately criticized Rowe demanding the sarcophagus be placed at the museum.




I don’t think that even Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has the kind of chutzpah Hawass displayed. Clearly, Egypt’s president doesn’t have the courage to criticize American foreign policy abuses in Palestine, Iraq and the rest of Middle East, either. In Mubarak’s defense, Egypt does receive the largest international bribe, err, “foreign aid” package from the United States, second only to Israel.


Still, it was refreshing to watch Hawass brow beat Rowe all over local TV. Rowe is worse than a government tyrant. Exelon, a public utility, abuses its customers, provides poor service, and over charges them, and guys like Rowe make so much money it's disgusting. Yet, he has as much responsibility to the public as a Third World tyrant.


That he spends some of his endless wealth to own his very own, personal Egyptian sarcophagus, only infuriates me more. I won’t even get into the macabre symbolism that, according to reports, Rowe displays the coffin in his office.


Making demands


These confrontations, apparently, are not unusual for Hawass who seems to have the diplomatic skills of a bull in a china shop.


According to reports, Hawass began in 2004 demanding that the British Museum return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt. A year earlier, he reportedly persuaded Emory University to return a mummy believed to be Pharaoh Ramses I. More recently, he pushed for the repatriation of 3,200-year-old coffin mask owned by the St. Louis Art Museum.


A spokeswoman for the St. Louis Museum said she is “confounded” by Hawass’ claims that the mask was stolen. She says the museum was diligent in determining that it was not stolen before paying $500,000.


Yeah, right. Like the majority of ancient items are not stolen from the oppressed people!


The fact is museums in many powerful Western nations have antiquities “taken” from less powerful nations like Egypt.


When I walk through the Louvre, in Paris, my first thought isn’t about the symbolism of the artifacts. No, I think about how France must have taken the loot while abusing the people of the countries it occupied.


Defending the oppressed?


I give Hawass credit for standing up for a higher and more important principle that I also share; it almost undermined the Chicago museum exhibit and certainly must have soured all the fancy parties planned for the opening that I am sure Hawass attended with all his regal popularity.


But I do wonder why Hawass, with an ego and mouth as big and as fearless as his, hasn’t already weighed in on the other controversy taking place at the Field Museum.


On the same day that Pharaoh Hawass and Corporate Tyrant Rowe had their royal tiff, nearly 100 members of several Chicago area Coptic Churches protested under the immense gold banners that touted “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” at the Field Museum.


I am sure Hawass couldn’t miss the protesters who carried wooden staffs and crosses, wore crucifixes around their necks, and waved American flags (in case anyone mistook them for illegal immigrants). The protesters were hoping to remind Americans that their tax dollars are being used to support a modern day Egyptian tyrant who oppresses his people.


Although Hawass has the courage to embarrass powerful American corporate giants to make his principled point about the rights of the ancient dead, he has been silent about the suffering of his fellow Egyptians who are still alive.


Well, Hawass might claim he did protests in support of the protesters, and argue it just wasn’t reported because the mainstream American media is biased and filled with anti-Arab hate.


Of course, that would have to mean that Hawass has experience with an uncensored, free media in Egypt.


Maybe Hawass wants to talk about that!


Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and standup comedian based in Chicago. He can be reached at .


פרסום ראשון: 05.29.06, 09:39
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